Jenin: the day after Christmas

The day after Christmas, the Israeli Army has killed six men, one of them from the next village over, Qabatiya. He is Hamza Abu Rubb who was active in Islamic Jihad.

Yesterday when I was coming from a Christmas day journey to the nearby village of Zababde, the shared-taxi driver said he was headed to Jenin, but “by the dirt road.” Not just dirt, it turns out, but huge ditches which the Israeli Army has dug to prevent Palestinians from going from one contiguous village to another. At the edge of Qabatiya village, he advised me: “Just walk a little way and you will find a ride on the other side.”

I admit that I enjoyed the mildly treacherous walk because the scenery was so beautiful, distant hills thrown into relief by the light misty rain. Why did I assume that the collection of black plastic bags were garbage bags? I passed by them, and had gotten to the middle of the precarious terrain when I realized that a man was transporting the bags from one side of the trenches to the other for the next leg of the journey. I backtracked and hoisted a bag onto my shoulders. “Apples” he replied when I had guessed they were onions. Placing the bag by the others, I saw an empty taxi. When the driver ran back, I asked if we would wait for other passengers. No, because the army was on the way. I don’t know if the Army was that close, though clearly they were there the next morning to hunt the men they want.

The Army’s obvious presence, comprised of tanks and armored personnel carriers, have been less in evidence. However, they are very much here, using Special Forces soldiers disguised as Arabs to track down and arrest or kill men. Hidden in the midst. One of my neighbors had been in hiding for two years but thought that the situation had improved in Jenin with the Army at bay. He came back to visit his family and proceeded to town for a cup of coffee with friends.

Five men approached him on the street and told him to put up his hands. He thought they were local youths joking with him. Their Arabic accents were good enough to sound native to this region which is linguistically distinct from other regions of Palestine. When they put a gun to his head and said they were Special Forces, he believed them. Neighbors found solace in the fact that he was merely arrested, and not killed on the spot.

My taxi driver was not so far off the mark about the Armyis movements. The Internet Cafe’s manager received an email message saying there were tanks here in Jenin. He opened the window, and we heard them a bit far off. They came closer and were shooting quite heavily in the middle of town. Then it seemed they had left, and we emailers also left shortly after. It seems they did not cause any bodily injuries. People walking in the streets asked me, “Why are they doing this? When will they leave?”

I visited some children in hospital, wounded by the Army’s hunting practice.

This morning, the eldest daughter in the Muslim family thoughtfully called me to listen to a Christian church leader speaking in Bethlehem on Christmas Day. He spoke clearly and sincerely against the occupation. As happens with such television shows, tragic scenes were interspersed with speeches. The children watching with me let up a cry of recognition when they saw a quick clip of their brother just after he was fatally shot last month. They were all excited at this remembrance of him, in spite of the circumstance.

We haven’t been totally tank-free. They rolled down the main road in front of the Refugee Camp on Monday 23 December as children were going to school for the major event of school examinations. A six-year old friend did not want to go to school when he heard the situation in his neighborhood: “The tanks might shoot me.” His mother encouraged him to go since I was accompanying him. As we were walking to the cluster of schools, the tank did shoot and spewed a cloud of special masking smoke. When the smoke cleared, I could not find Hasan.

I accompanied his sister and brother to school, and returned to find him. He was at home, and this time his mother said, “He doesn’t want to got to school today.” Small wonder considering that his little cousin was killed in June 2002 on his way to first grade. The tanks left without incident.

Another perspective: A relative visiting from inside Israel asked, “How can you tell there are tanks?” Her local cousins told her to listen for the steady purr in the background. Imagine, some people don’t know the sound of tanks!

Last week there were faded green tents in the destroyed Hawashin area of the Camp. For several days, loudspeakers from mosques announced that people still waiting for compensation for their destroyed homes should come to a special meeting.

Community leaders spoke and asked pointed questions of Richard Cook, the UNRWA official. Muhammad Abu Ghalion pointed out that the tens of millions of dollars earmarked for the homes had been in the possession of UNRWA for a number of months without being distributed, while it is believed that UNRWA used the interest on the money to pay its own workers’ salaries. The UNRWA official said he would consider all of the questions that were raised.

An Emergency Committee has been formed for Jenin city and Camp, whereby the Munipality, the Red Crescent and other service organizations will work together to be prepared for emergencies, and will have one central telephone number for people to call in time of need. This should alleviate problems we encountered in the last invasion where private citizens were arranging for bread and water distribution.

May we arrange for more exalted activities!

Dr. Annie Higgins is an Arabic and Arabic literature lecturer at the University of Chicago and is a former recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship. She is currently in Jenin.